Uriminzokkiri.com, the closest thing North Korea has to an official home page, got social in July when it joined Twitter and Facebook.
The move generated lots of publicity and helped drive Internet users to follow its tweets and status-updates, but also drew the attention of the governments in Seoul and Washington.
Uriminzokkiri’s moves into social media began a few weeks earlier with the launch of a YouTube channel, but that was largely unnoticed. A few news organizations picked up on the launch including AFP, which provided a sense of the channel’s content.
One English-language video with a duration of five minutes and 56 seconds praised leader Kim Jong-Il, calling him as a “general sent by the heaven.”
Another clip posted a week ago berates South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan over his controversial remarks last month that young South Korean leftists should not enjoy freedom in the South but should live under Kim Jong-Il.
In mid-August Uriminzokkiri followed up with the launch of a Twitter feed (@uriminzok), and suddenly the world’s media began paying attention. Over the next few days tens of stories were published on the feed, which was used to send out Korean-language headlines and links to articles on the Uriminzokkiri Web site and links to the YouTube channel.
In my article, “North Korean Jumps onto Twitter,” I wrote about the first messages:
The first message was posted to the account on Aug. 12 and declared (in Korean) “The Web site ‘Our Nation’ is on Twitter.”
It was followed by three messages pointing to important documents: a 1997 essay written by defacto leader Kim Jong Il on reunification, the North-South Joint Declaration of June 15, 2000, and the declaration issued after the North-South summit of Oct. 4, 2007. Subsequent updates have pointed to recent news articles.
It didn’t take very long for Twitter users to start noticing the account and signing up to follow the tweets.
Among those who chimed in on the new account was Philip Crowley, a U.S. state department spokesman, who commented on his own Twitter account (@pjcrowley):
“The North Korean government has joined Twitter, but is it prepared to allow its citizens to be connected as well?”
Within a few days the account had amassed more than 10,000 followers, including some who appeared to be South Korean. The government in Seoul quickly reacted by warning users against following the account and put in place blocks on the page. The Chosun Ilbo reported “A tweet from Pyongyang could land you in jail“:
“In case the account is discovered to be owned by North Korea, replies to the posts or any form of communication with the account without taking the steps to report those actions carries the chance of violating the inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act,” said Lee. Viewing the North Korean YouTube clips doesn’t violate the law.
The inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act states any persons who take part in any exchange with North Korea can be subject to up to three years in prison or up to 10 million won ($8,520.79) in fines.
“Facebook is based on real people making real-world connections and people on Facebook will get the most value out of the site by using their real identity,” said Kumiko Hidaka, a spokeswoman for Facebook, by e-mail. “So posing as a person or entity you don’t officially represent is a violation of our policies, and that’s why those profiles in questions have been removed.”
I pressed Facebook and they explained it was all down to the type of account that had been set up. Uriminzokkiri should have created a page, not a personal account. The Web site hasn’t tried to create the account again, it remains down at time of writing, so it’s unclear if it will fall foul of some other restriction should it be created as a page.
Uriminzokkiri has come out swinging against the South Korean block, according to Daily NK. The Web site translated a post that called the Twitter block a “reckless infringement upon the right to know.”
“The South Chosun traitor factions are busily engaged in blocking the ‘Uriminjok’ accounts on You Tube and Twitter,” adding, “This is a stupid move that only computer-illiterates would do in the information age.”
Currently the Facebook group is still down, the YouTube channel continues to carry videos from Korean Central TV, and the Twitter channel is active with over 10,000 followers.
The Twitter channel has evolved in sophistication over its first few weeks. At first it posted full links to the Uriminzokkiri Web site, but soon caught on to URL shortners. In recent days it has begun replying to a few Twitter messages that have come in from followers.